Sunday, January 7, 2018

Indy Eleven Drop Tower

Photo Credit: Theme Park Review
The off-season the past couple years in lower division soccer in the United States has been less like a roller coaster and more of drop tower. Emotions going from highs to lows quickly and slow painful waits to get back to the highs.

In 2016, the North American Soccer League (NASL) looked to be shuttering only to get a late reprieve and a provisional 2nd division status. The United Soccer League (USL), in January, was also given a provisional 2nd division status, giving lower division fans two leagues in the 2nd division, but leaving an empty 3rd division. The NASL's lack of teams and deficiency in meeting the time zones requirement being major components of their provisional status. Before the NASL could even reach the end of the 2017 season, word came down that they would not be able to maintain their Division 2 status, and the Drop Tower off-season began.

What followed was a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), an appeal by the NASL after the lawsuit did not go the way that the league had hoped, North Carolina FC moving to the USL, Edmonton FC ceased operations, and the San Francisco Deltas shut down after just a single season in the league. The positive side of things for the league were that they picked up commitments from California United FC and San Diego's 1904 FC. However, all that change meant that the NASL's 8 team league in 2017 dropped to 5 and then back up to 7 for the 2018 season.

Late Friday night, the Soc Takes crew released a report that the Indy Eleven will be joining NCFC in their move to the USL and will be playing their games at Lucas Oil Stadium with an official announcement from the league/team coming late next week. There hasn't been any indication from the league or the team of the validity of the claim, but given the magnitude of the statement, that's not unsurprising. While many in Indy's fanbase celebrated the move, it could spell disaster for the NASL, even if they do win the lawsuit. A 4 + 2? team league likely doesn't see a 2018 and maybe not another game ever.

I have routinely contacted the team for comment on their plans and were repeated told that the falling domino of the appeal process was their starting point. Given the prolonged appeal process, that there doesn't seem to be a finish line in sight for it, and a fast approaching deadline to be able to play in a spring season, Eleven ownership and front office staff may have decided they were left without a choice. The move surprises me based on what I've inferred from Ersal over the years, but he's a businessman and lower division soccer has a hard time making money in the best of days. Lower division soccer doesn't make any money if there aren't any fans in the seats for a good portion of 2018. Sometimes you have to adjust your business and your business model to succeed.

Another recurring topic of my questions to the team has been about the players. How are they dealing with the delay? What have been their interactions with the team? What players are remaining? The "Standard Operating Procedure" response provided very little information. What I have been told over the last couple months is that the team does have players under contract. In the last week, that has been adjusted to the point where I think I can provide a guess what players might be returning to a USL-bound Eleven. In September, I had some thoughts on a 2018 roster and I think I'm going to change my mind a bit on a few. I do know that before the holidays none of the players had requested release from their contracts, that most were waiting on the court decision and a subsequent decision on the next coach, but that "players always have options to get out of their contract if they can receive a more lucrative contract elsewhere (especially if the acquiring team pays their penalty fee to close out their existing contract)."

We know Torrado and Ubiparipovic are gone. Rumors are that Cardona is trying out at other teams. That doesn't surprise me either if you think Busch is back. Given that we haven't seen an announcement of that, it doesn't take too much to think Cardona is moving on. I'm guessing that Junior and Ables weren't given much more than stop-gap type contracts and were free agents not long after the season finished. So that's 5 players not returning.

I still believe that Franco, Ring, & Keller were under contract for 2018, regardless of what happened. Greg Rakestraw and Soccer Saturday more or less confirmed this about Ring today. I was told on Friday that the team had "optioned on several players, but haven't on several others." Used the word "several" in both.
Optioned (my guesses):

Not Optioned (my guesses):

If the team has decided to move to USL, expect a decision on a coach soon as well so that the player piece can be finalized. The new coach may see value in the guys that weren't optioned, but we're still a bit out from that point. If those guys have any interest in playing in 2018, they aren't going to want to wait much longer to get those conversations started with other teams.

A couple final comments on the announcement from Soc Takes related to the use of Lucas Oil Stadium. I was told awhile back that the ticket prices for 2018 would remain the same as 2017. I don't see how that can hold true with a move to LOS. I don't know how much the tickets will change, and hopefully there will continue to be the low-end entry point, but ticket prices are going to have to change if the new home of the Eleven is LOS and not Carroll Stadium. Additionally, I believe that a season in LOS will drastically affect the team's hopes of a P3-funded soccer specific stadium. The argument will be that if they can make it work for a year, why can't they make it work long-term? It will become increasingly more difficult to make the argument that it's not feasible if they are able to do it for a year.

The announcement is a big one. Official words will come eventually. I'm still trying to temper my enthusiasm until I know the rest of the details. Just waiting for the rest of the Drop Tower ride.

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